A way with words

One hundred and twenty authors will appear this year including singer and writer Nick Cave, expatriate Australian writer John Pilger and former East Timor president José Ramos Horta.

The festival is the brainwave of Australian Janet de Neefe and has attracted many outstanding writers over the years, including Kiran Desai and her mother Anita Desai, Amitav Ghosh, Michael Ondaatje, former frontline journalist Kate Adie and Ma Jian. From Australia, writers have included Richard Flanagan, Thomas Keneally, travel writer and historian William Dalrymple, Cate Kennedy, Sophie Cunningham, Frank Moorhouse and Christos Tsiolkas, whose multi-award-winningThe Slap was long-listed for the 2010 Man Booker Prize.

De Neefe is a human powerhouse, and she needs to be. This is the ninth time she has pulled this massive event together virtually single-handed. And when you run several businesses in this beautiful Balinese town and write cookbooks, it’s a busy life.

The idea for the festival struck de Neefe after the bombings in Bali in 2002. She wanted to reclaim the island from the terrorists, and invited writers from around the world to the inaugural event. The first year was a shambles, she says, but she powerered on, persuading corporations to offer sponsorship money and asking friends to volunteer.

“It’s always a struggle to garner enough sponsorship, and this year is no exception … (but) something always turns up. It’s distressing because of course a literature festival is on the bottom rung. If it was a sports event or some sort of marathon I’d be getting millions. It’s just the nature of the beast. In this country it’s like ‘What? A reading festival?’,” says de Neefe.

De Neefe uses her renowned charm to woo writers from around the world. “I write and say ‘Hey, would you like a holiday in Bali?’” she says.

The festival funds as many writers as possible through grants from the Australia Council and various foundations. In 2009, about 16,000 people attended at 42 venues across Ubud, including the local soccer field. In 2011, the festival attracted around 25,000 people and featured more than 100 writers, a third of them Indonesian, the rest from more than 20 countries.

The events are staged right across Ubud. “We have loads of different events happening over the four days – panel sessions, literary lunches, workshops, book launches, readings, performances and cocktail parties,” de Neefe says.

“There are tonnes of local volunteers helping us. And we use lots of local venues so that everyone benefits. People go shopping, eat in the local restaurants and stay in the local hotels. You can’t do better than that.”

De Neefe is passionate about keeping the festival going even though the workload as she sustains her other businesses can be crushing. “Next year is our 10-year anniversary so I can’t really get beyond that right now,” she says. “The work involved never ends. I dream of a year when I won’t lose sleep over funding.”

One hundred and twenty authors will appear this year at the writers festival including singer and writer Nick Cave. “That for me is really special,” she says. Also appearing are expatriate Australian writer John Pilger and former East Timor president José Ramos Horta. “We felt we needed an East Timorese presence because of the anniversary of their independence,” she says.

The festival has been a boon to local businesses. “Of course the festival has been great for local businesses and from all reports they can now really feel the difference when the festival is in town,” de Neefe says. “We have put Ubud on the international literary circuit which is pretty exciting.”

Original article from :

Australia Unlimited


How a Brief Bali Escape Changed One Woman’s Life

by : Joni Sweet | November 06, 2012

What started as a brief holiday in Bali in 1984 ended up transforming Janet DeNeefe’s life. She fell in love, not only with a man she would marry five years later, but also with the community, culture and especially cuisine of the island oasis. Almost 30 years later, Janet proudly calls Ubud — where she runs a cooking school, a cafe, two restaurants, a popular guesthouse and the famed Ubud Writers and Readers Festival — her home.

DeNeefe will share her knowledge of Balinese cooking in a talk hosted by Jakarta’s Indonesian Heritage Society at Erasmus Huis on Tuesday at 7 p.m. She will discuss how she turned the island into a hands-on classroom by training in the kitchens of her husband’s family and becoming a “village cook.”

“I’d watch my husband’s sister and her helper cook breakfast and I was totally absorbed in it. I’d later come back to Ubud in the afternoon and then hang around his brother’s restaurant and just sit in their kitchen,” she said. “It was sort of my PhD in Balinese cooking.”

While she said she laments her lack of formal culinary training, that hasn’t stopped the “grandma-style cook” from publishing a memoir with recipes, “Fragrant Rice” in 2003, and a Balinese cookbook, “The Food of My Island Home” in 2011. She has also taught thousands of students the art of balancing spices and how to properly understand and honor the traditions behind the dishes.

“Initially I thought I was just recording recipes, but I came to realize that I was unraveling aspects of the culture and maybe the fundamental principle that the Balinese have of harmony and balance. Everything they make is sort of this extraordinary balance of a thousand ingredients,” she said.

In her classes, students can learn how to make dishes such as spiced fish in banana leaves; gado-gado, a boiled-vegetable salad with a peanut sauce dressing; smoked duck and chicken satay. DeNeefe also takes them one step further into Bali with tours of neighborhood markets.

“Asian markets are very romantic and that is where you get the most exciting food because it’s catering for the local community and there’s a lot of color and excitement and Asian ambiance,” she said.

With the belief that good food can break down cultural borders, the 53-year-old makes a point to highlight not only the cuisine, but also Balinese society and its Hindu culture.

“It’s a really beautiful religion,” she said. “There’s a lot of ritual involved, but it’s really poetic and beautiful, so it’s hard not to be attracted to that. But also within the culture is the way the communities operate and their attention to relationships, to family, community, to the way they care about people.”

The inexhaustible woman, who was originally trained as an art teacher, hosts cooking classes at the Casa Luna Cooking School seven days a week. In addition, she runs the Casa Luna and Indus restaurants, Honeymoon Guesthouses, the Bar Luna cafe, and a homewares emporium.

The mother-of-four somehow still finds time to travel around Indonesia in search of gastronomic inspiration for new recipes. She is particularly interested in writing a book about Sumatran food, which she calls “the queen of Indonesian cuisine.”

DeNeefe added that she hoped to expand her culinary repertoire by offering food tours as early as next year, a project she began planning in the early 2000s, but put on hold after the Bali bombings in 2002. The following year, her ambition took a literary turn: to ease the blow of the terror attack on Bali, she founded the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.

“I knew it had to be something that attracted international names and audience alongside Indonesians, something that brought people together,” she said. “It had to be something of that magnitude that brings in the world’s greatest writers, thinkers, great minds that can make a difference, because terrorism is something that has such a negative impact, so it had to be something that could dissolve that negative impact with something that would transpire into a really positive thing.”

DeNeefe is planning the next literary festival, which will take place from Oct. 2-6, 2013 and again celebrate the theme of the first festival, “Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang” (“Through Darkness to Light”), in honor of a milestone year.

DeNeefe has made it her mission to nourish herself, her family and her students with the rich colors, striking flavors and depth of Balinese food and culture. The tools of her trade merely consist of “a mortar and pestle, a knife, a wok, a stirring spoon and a flame,” along with a passion, know-how and an array of simple yet satisfying ingredients.

“Cooking for people is one of the greatest joys and it’s not just about food,” she said. “It’s about pleasing people and looking after people, which for me is really important.”

Food Ways of Bali: A Love Story 
Discussion with Janet DeNeefe
Hosted by Indonesian Heritage Society
Tuesday, Nov. 6, from 7 p.m.Erasmus Huis
Jl. Rasuna Said, Kav. S-3, adjacent to the Dutch Embassy

Original article taken from : THE JAKARTA GLOBE